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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2002-05-3)

The 28th annual Nederburg wine auction, held at Paarl this month, realised a record total of R7,343 million for the 6,363 twelve-bottle cases of wine sold. Last year the figure was R6,445 million. At the first auction, held in 1975, the total amount paid was R237,000.

The auction is confined to rare South African wines which have to be approved in advance by a panel of experts. Red wines invariably dominate the proceedings, and this year they accounted for nearly six million rand in sales.

Only licensed liquor dealers may bid at the auction, and this year they came from 23 different countries, including Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Poland, Finland and Tanzania. Foreign buyers paid nearly 20 percent of the total raised at the auction. Namibia was the biggest buyer among them, with total purchases of R474,000. Swiss buyers paid R241,000, Zambians R102,300, and the British R100,800.

For the second successive year the biggest buyer of them all was the Spar supermarket group, which bought 1,288 cases for R1,113,000. As happened last year, Makro and Pick ‘n Pay took second and third places, with purchases totalling R537,000 and R523,000. I suppose this is an effective answer to those who think that drinking good wine is a pastime only for the super-snobbish or the super-rich. These three firms have a wide range of customers covering all income groups.

Top price paid at the auction was R12,000 for six bottles of the 1966 vintage of Lanzerac Pinotage. I wonder if anyone will actually drink this. At R2,000 a bottle it looks to me like a collector’s item, to be discussed, examined and admired, but to remain unopened.

Here are some of the highest prices paid per bottle for wines in various categories, wines which will, I think, be sipped and savoured: Vergelegen Chardonnay Reserve 1999, R450; Zonnebloem Cabernet/Shiraz/Pinotage 1974, R833; Nederburg Private Reserve Port 1964, R400.

And a three-litre bottle of Pongracz Methode Cap Classique sparkling wine, 1990 vintage, was sold for R440, not too bad when you consider that this ultra-large bottle is equal to four ordinary 750-ml bottles. Of course, you have to drink it all at once --- unless you follow the (dubious) example of a Cape Town journalist who wrote recently that he and his wife kept a magnum of champagne fizzy for four days by plugging the bottle with tightly rolled up toilet paper. – Michael Green




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